Tuesday, April 12

Spell-Checking To Disaster


I recently came across an archived blog post (www.callalillie.com) that reminded me of a study about the pitfalls of spell-check.

The post explained how a federal judge in Philadelphia had taken a stand against typo-prone lawyers by reducing a lawyer's request for fees, citing an overabundance of typographical errors in his filings.

In one letter, the NY Times reported, the lawyer had given the magistrate's name as Jacon, not Jacob [Hart]. Hart responded: ''I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in 'The Lord of the Rings,' but, alas, I am only a judge.''

This fits well with a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh a few years ago. In this study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter. Half used Microsoft Word and half used their heads.

Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors compared to 12.3 errors made by students with lower scores. Using spell-check software, students with higher verbal scores made, on average, 16 errors compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores.

Associated Press writer Charles Sheehan asked Microsoft technical specialist Tim Pash to comment on the study. Pash reminded him that grammar and spelling programs are meant to help writers and editors, not solve their problems.

The simple truth is that spell-check and grammar programs are great tools to help people think about what they've written in a document, letter, article, or essay. But like any tool, they create more problems than solutions when used incorrectly.

When it comes to being a better writer, think of spell-check like driving a car with an automatic transmission. The automatic transmission makes driving easier, but if you don't take the time to understand the rules of the road, you're still headed for disaster.

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